More alarming data on health implications of Lebanon’s waste crisis

Image result for trash burning lebanon

Source: Daily Star

The waste crisis that started in July 2015 has still not been fully resolved. In March 2016, eight months after the crisis, the government announced a new solid waste management plan for Beirut and Mount and Lebanon. The government tried to develop more than one solution but eventually agreed on maintaining the same solid waste management principle that created this crisis which is based on landfilling. As explained in a blog post last June, the process of selecting the locations for the proposed landfills was not transparent, lacked basic environmental selection criteria and seemed to be purely dependent on political bargaining. Despite public resistance, two new landfills in Bourj Hammoud and Costa Brava (south of Beirut) are being constructed to receive the bulk of the waste that used to be disposed of in the Naameh landfill.

Waste collection was disrupted intermittently over the past 16 months resulting in waste accumulating on the side road. Most of the time, waste would be taken out of central Beirut areas and disposed in makeshift locations on the outskirts of the capital. A high number of Beirut residents have been exposed to waste throughout this period. In some areas, the foul stench of trash was a daily occurrence. The burning of trash became more common which has only exacerbated the environmental and public health problem.

The results of an AUB study released in January highlighted the health hazards of air pollution from waste burning. Exposure to this type of pollution translates into an increase in short-term cancer risk from 1 to 18 persons per million. A new study by AUB that researched the health impact of the trash crisis provides more evidence of the adverse impacts caused by the crisis. The study consisted of monitoring 221 working men split into two groups between the ages of 18 and 60 years.  One group worked in a waste free area while the other group worked in an area where trash burning was common. The study found that people working in the area exposed to waste experienced constant fatigue, headaches, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, shortness of breath, cough and runny nose. The study concluded that if working near dumps then increases the likelihood to suffer from respiratory and digestive issues by 400%. It is important to keep in mind that this study was done on healthy working men. Vulnerable groups of people, such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, would be more prone to suffer from such exposure.

These impacts will be more evident as the situation continues. Trash burning throughout Lebanon needs to be halted immediately and the government should exert all its power to enforce this. One of the many shortcomings of how the government dealt with the trash crisis is the lack of a strategy to maintain public health. If this approach does not change, then the likelihood of developing and implementing measures to mitigate the adverse impacts of the crisis is very unlikely.

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